Monday, June 20, 2011

Hoohathlon 2011 Race Report: A Taste of Tri

As I sat down to write this race report, a plethora of emotions washed over me. The Hoohathlon that I participated in yesterday, 19 June 2011, was incredibly meaningful to me because I had always wanted to do a triathlon, and this was my first taste of a tri, an 'appetizer'. My journey to this point has been derailed so many times because of illness, and this flicker of hope almost snuffed out in 2009, that I barely dared to hope again to tri. A few years ago, I had thought my illness conquered, and had planned to do my first tri ('Tri-ing for Me: Triathlon after Illness). It never happened. A family crisis brought on the worst relapse that I had had since diagnosed with the rare illness (Henoch Schonlein Purpura) ten years ago. Instead of triathlon training and brick workouts, in a desperate bid to get better I ended up camped in the Florida Everglades with alligators, rattlesnakes and other friendly wildlife as my companions!

Humbled... and grateful. That is how I feel right now. Because I know I could never have gotten here without the support of the people in my life… my devoted husband, also my biggest cheerleader … my family and friends … my employer, FRIM, who accommodated for my illness… and my God.

Pre-Race Prep
For months I had been slowly tapering my medications under my doctor’s supervision, while preparing for the race. When I first started training I was very weak but I faithfully put in time on my elliptical machine every evening after work, increasing from 10 minutes to an hour a day, over two months. After I signed up for the race, I started training in earnest. The week before, I had successfully completed the Hoohathlon distances: 150 m swim in my apartment pool, 10 km bike and 5 km run at the scenic Kepong Botanical Gardens in FRIM. Unfortunately, I relapsed from food poisoning two days before the race. I wasn’t sure if I should/could/would do the race at all.

Race Day
I woke up 5.30 am, felt 'okay' (as much as a relapsing person with protein and blood in the pee could feel, which in the early stages
is ‘okay’), and decided to go for it. My body was still strong from the training prior, and I would be able to complete the race at a slow pace. Plus, I reminded myself, the Hoohathlon isn’t even a ‘Race’. It is a fun, non-competitive, family and friends event. (Except in my case, none of my friends or family could be persuaded to join me, for various lame excuses offered, so I was going solo this time. My hubs would have raced with me, but he’s in the USA right now). After a quick breakfast, I began the hour-long drive to the Putra Jaya Water Sports Complex where the race would be held.

Transition Set Up
I collected my race kit (chockful with swag worth more than RM200 thanks to sponsors Brooks, Tyr, etc), put my bike together, gathered my things and toddled over to the transition area to deposit my bike and race gear. The transition area was very well organized, with large signs indicating where racers should ‘Bike Out’ (after the swim), ‘Bike In’ and ‘Run Out’ (after the ride). A reassuring-looking barricade encircled the entire transition area and race staff were posted to make sure nobody walked away with any of the nice (pricey) bikes already racked there. There was probably about RM0.5 million worth of carbon-steel–titanium alloys and rubber racked there, including some sweet racing road bikes. My el-cheapo (in comparison) mountain bike (my hubs built from scratch from E-bay parts) had freshly installed road-slicks and held its own (in my extremely biased opinion anyways) against these wheeled stallions.

Prepping at the Transition Area (Pic courtesy of Tey Eng Tiong.)
I strapped my timing chip to my left ankle. In the provided basket, I arranged my race gear in order of usage. Right on top, my spectacles resting on my bike shirt with bib pinned on. Two small towels. Socks and bike shoes, helmet and gloves. Running shoes – thin soled rubber flats – and spare socks, white running cap, and hand-held bottle of cold coconut juice (my isotonic drink of choice). I had a great time chatting with my neighbors while setting up – both were first time triathletes, but seemed accomplished marathoners/bikers. I watched amusedly as Reza Ali, a motivational guru and first time triathlete was interviewed by the press (don’t worry Reza, you did well with your spontaneous answers. Read Reza's race report here). At 7.50 am, I stripped down to my mismatched swim suit (bikini top and tri bottoms) and headed down with the ladies to the swim start by the lake. I think there were about a hundred racers, 75% were men.
Pre-race briefing. That's me in the blue top and black tri bottoms! (Pic courtesy of HooHa.Asia)
The race briefing was short and to the point. We were to step on a mat before the swim, and after, so that the timing chip would record our swim times, and continue mat-stepping after each leg of the race. One useful result would be me knowing how long I took prettying up in the transition area between legs, and oh yes, my overall race time.

The Swim
The SuperMen (ages 19 to 39) were flagged off first at 8 am, followed at 8.10 am by the Wonder Women (19 to 39), Cat Women (>40 yrs) and Zorro males (>40).

GO! The SuperMen get off to a swimming start! (Pic courtesy of HooHa.Asia)
The water was a lovely cool temperature and we clung on to the jetty while waiting for ‘GO’. Then we were off! Or rather, everyone else was off. I hung back waiting for the flurry of thrashing arms and legs to ease up a bit, then started a slow breast stroke. (I have to say here that I have a fear of drowning that refuses to go away, but facing this fear by spending more time in the water has built my confidence). I caught up to and swam around a few slower swimmers. A young man in front of me appeared in distress – he was clinging on to another swimmer, hands raised waving for help. A marshall zoomed over on a jet ski and the swimmer was told to hang on to the jet ski to rest. I circled around and kept going. For the next 100 m I switched to forward crawl, enjoying the swim, while keeping a wide berth around the few swimmers that I caught up to. Visibility was a surprising 3 m or so and pleasantly different from the murky Lake Chini where I did morning laps while camped there last year. The water tasted good too! The water is tested daily for E. coli and other nasties, and is sort of a high-grade filtered river water. It was a pleasure being able to swim in the Putra Jaya Lake. And a privilege too – swimming is not permitted at any other time, and this Hoohathlon was an exception (a big shoutout to En Azuddin, Perbadanan Putra Jaya for making this possible). I wouldn’t have minded at all doing a couple more laps, but it was time to move on. Besides I was among the last few out of the water! The organizers had set up luxurious showers all along the exit jetty, so as I ran along, I received a mini-spa experience.

Enjoying the mini-spa rainshower experience after the swim leg 
(Pic courtesy of Tey Eng Tiong.)
Swim-Bike Transition
There weren’t many bikes left in the transition area, so it was easy finding my bike. I put on my glasses (blind as a bat without them), pulled on my bike shirt. Then I sat down on my towel and dried my feet before wearing my socks and shoes. Last on were my helmet and gloves and I was off! There was a drink station at transition but I had a water bottle on my bike so I skipped that.

'Go Girl'! At the start of the bike leg. 
(Pic courtesy of Tey Eng Tiong)
The Bike 
The 10.6 km route was well marked, with marshalls at every intersection waving in friendly greeting. I cycled along at a leisurely pace. Sunday traffic was light and it was nice to not have to inhale much car exhaust. A bunch of racers passed me, including (I think) the young man who had trouble in the swim earlier. I was glad to see that he got through the swim OK. I could see the advantage of having a proper road bike – the racers who passed me were doing one cycle stroke for every three cycle strokes that I did. I kept my cadence at about 90 rpm. I only felt nervous once when a big bus came within a foot of me but held the bike steady. I am actually afraid of cycling - a throwback to past bike accidents and egg-shell bones/osteoporosis due to my meds' side-effects. My legs felt fresh at the end of that nice ride!

Bike-Run Transition
Shouts of ‘Dismount!!’ and ‘Get off your bike!!’ shook me from my happy reverie. After a brief moment of disorientation, I remembered that I had to click out of my eggbeater pedals or risk falling over in an ungraceful heap with my feet still stuck on the pedals. I ran my bike over to my spot and racked it. That I was among the last to get back was evident, because the racks were all full! I sat down on my towel and switched out to my running flats, took off my helmet and gloves, grabbed my bottle and cap and was off!

The Run

The 5 km run was along the Lake and what a beautiful run it was. It started from the transition area, 2.5 km to a dam overlooking the entire lake (spectacular views), then 2.5 km back to the Finish. I started at a slow jog, and increased my pace as I felt my running legs activate. I was glad I had my ‘Go Girl!’ shirt on, because almost everyone I passed yelled ‘Go Girl!’, probably in automatic response to reading off my shirt! It was all good and I had a huge grin plastered to my face the entire time. By that time the sun was out and families were picnicking around the lakeside. The Lake is probably one of the best kept secrets in Putra Jaya – I had not even known about it! I sipped from my bottle and didn’t need to stop at the 2.5 km water station. It was wonderful running in my thin-soled rubber shoes. Without the thick cushion of normal jogging shoes, I automatically mid-foot strike instead of heel-strike, and it has helped with my knee problems (I have arthritis as a symptom of my illness). I can’t wait till I get the Vibram Five Fingers my hubs is sending for my birthday...

Then suddenly, I was at the finish line! Finish!!!

My overall results: 1:23:59. Swim: 7:40. T1: 4:08. B: 34:50. T2: 2:10. R: 35:13.

The awards ceremony came soon after the last racer crossed the finish. Everyone was in good spirits, cheering and clapping for the ‘unofficial’ winners of the respective categories. Since this was a fun (non-competitive) race, there were no official winners, but the top three finishers for each category got a moment of limelight up on the awards stage and were presented with winner’s wreaths. A young WonderWoman had one of the best times, finishing at 55 minutes and beating out most if not all of the other men (I think maybe she was a pro-triathlete?). I had a great time chatting with other racers after the awards ceremony, during the BBQ Feast. There was a huge spread, plenty of food to go around – barbeque lamb, chicken, satay, shrimp kebabs, fried rice and noodles, fresh cut fruit, ‘ice kacang’ for dessert. It was inspiring hanging out with all these young folk and listening to them talk about their marathoning and ultramarathoning experiences. Ultramarathon? Running 100 km is not for the faint-hearted. I sort of like that idea. Some day maybe…

I’ve written plenty of race reports for my hubs (read some here), but this is my first race report for me. I look forward to getting and staying completely better and doing a ‘real’ triathlon (sprint distance) as soon as I physically can. Thanks HooHa Asia for organizing this stellar event and you can count me in for next year!

Definitely check out the amazing photos (about 1000 of them) covering every moment of the race, at Tey Eng Tiong's Facebook albums. More pics at HooHa.Asia's Photo Gallery. Also check out the Pre-race Promo Video featuring En Ahmad Azuddin b Arshad, and more about the Hoohathlon (the race guide) at HooHa Asia's webby. And here are the HOOHATHLON RACE RESULTS !

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xo Gracie


  1. Cool lah Grace. I remember you smiling all the way. I thought I had a big smile but must learn from you. Thanks for the mention. Thank god I wasn't rambling on (like the way I'm rambling now)....


  2. Hey Reza! Thanks for dropping by! Your Hoohathlon posts are so inspiring! However, I think when it comes to rambling, I'm the Queen Ramblinger :). See you around and keep tri-ing!

  3. Great job Grace! So proud of you! I'll have your road bike ready for your next race... :)

  4. Thanks for stopping by Mr Clark! Well, I know you already have my road bike ready, but it's in the US right now.... So when you comin' over?

  5. Grace. You are brilliant lah. You've made me more determined to master the swim. I had forgotten the joy of participating until I read your post. Your joy and enthusiasm is so infectious.

    Will definitely take up your offer of the swim.......

  6. Hey Reza! I've been enjoying your blog posts too! Email me when you wanna do laps at the Templer's Park spring-fed pool ok! If health permits, I'm going to sign up for the PD tri same as you, so a couple of sea swim sessions are a must for me also!

  7. Well Done! Love the photo of you at the showers! Nice.

  8. Thanks Yoon! I'm so glad there was a photographer (Tey Eng Siong) who took all those photos of me. A picture says a thousand words.


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